I can’t really place why, but I’ve never been a fan of Japanese anime style animation. Maybe it was because the first examples of it I was exposed to were Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, both seemed like a silly excuse to sell toys to elementary school boys. However, as I grow to enjoy animated films more and more, I’ve got to give them a real chance. So I decided to start with one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, Howl’s Moving Castle.
In the film, I’m honestly a little lost on what happens. There’s Sophie, a young woman in a hat shop who because she has a chance meeting with the dashing wizard, Howl (voiced by Christian Bale), is transformed into an old woman by the jealous and lard-like Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall). So old-looking Sophie (now voiced by Jean Simmons) runs off into the hills where she meets a hopping scarecrow she names Turniphead. Turniphead leads her to Howl’s castle, which is wonderfully mobile. Inside she meets Calcifer (Billy Crystal) a fire demon who powers the castle and seems pretty nice for a demon and Markl (a younger sounding Josh Hutcherson) a young boy who seems to be Howl’s assistant or apprentice. Sophie stays with them, appointing herself as the new cleaning lady and eventually gets into Howl’s business with his relations with local royalty and his role in a war going on.
By the end of the film, I had more questions than answers. Why is there a war? What part does Howl playin it? Why does he turn into a bird-like being and join in battle? How does that affect him? What were those shifty, black blob guys? With all this ambiguity in the story, I felt that the most important thing was that Sophie find a way to be young again and get back home, but that seemed to be of little concern to all the characters and I was left feeling very disconnected.
However, I did enjoy the film visually. I let my inhibitions about jerky mouth moviements and a character far too effiminate looking for Christian Bale’s voice go and found some beauty. Howl’s castle itself was a visual treat, looking like a haphazard assembly of random pieces of buidlings, complete with pulsing smoke stacks, legs and an area that opens like a mouth. It becomes a character itself feeling like it grew right out of a whimsical storybook. Cal’s fire demon image was unique and wonderfully simple, he seemed to move like a living water color, with eyes and a mouth added on. And all the backgrounds that the characters find themselves in, from meadows full of flowers, to sprawling cities and even into the clouds.
Though I would not call myself a fan of anime yet, or that of Howl’s Moving Castle really, I hope this is a step into a wider world of animation. I hear more of Miyazaki’s films are even better and I hope to see his newest The Wind Rises as soon as it is released near me. Meanwhile, I will try to keep an open mind about anime, as long as my husband doesn’t put on Pokemon just to annoy me.
“What a dump. When I think of castles, it’s not what I picture.”